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Kelly Harland: Kelly Harland Sings Jerome Kern: Long Ago and Far Away

Voice, piano and bass: the essence of intimacy. The closeness in this session is palpable: singer Kelly Harland and bassist Chuck Deardorf are married. The only outsider is pianist Bill Mays. But as every insider knows, he’s the accompanist most singers would kill for. He demonstrates why from beginning to end; each track is a master class in how to comp supportively behind a jazz singer. Deardorf is no slouch when it comes to suportive comping, but on “Yesterdays” he creates, in the intro, a minefield to challenge Kelly. She rises to it by simply singing melody, yet her jazz feeling makes it swing. (How did she find her starting note?) When Mays joins the fray, he and Deardorf stretch out and quote each other in a fiercely swinging, three-against-four give-and-take: the instrumental highlight of the album.

Vocal high points are more difficult to describe because Kelly’s vocal style is elusive. She has limited range and some difficulty sustaining tones, yet she is a riveting singer. What she has going for her are interpretive chops: fast or slow, she can reach deep down in her gut, and, using her naturally soulful voice, her instinctive jazz phrasing and keen sense of time, add her “instrument” to the rhythm section, creating a pleasing blend. Without resorting to improvisation (even though she demonstrates it in places,) Harland has the ability to heighten the swing pulse by soaring over the kinetic duo in her confident legato.

“The Song is You” proves interesting. Beginning the tune with its release doesn’t work. Suggesting another Kern classic, “I Hear Music,” meets with the same fate. When Kelly sets the final tempo, “The Song” takes flight and proves to be a burner.

“Folks Who Live On the Hill,” “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, seldom-heard “Can I Forget You,” “Long Ago and Far Away,” a mild bossa “Make Believe,” including its verse (quoted in the fade-out), and particularly “All The Things You Are,” whose verse is also implied at the end: all are exquisitely sung and reverently accompanied. Kudos to Mays for easing Harland up a half tone for the start of its chorus. Verily, ballads are Kelly’s forte.

Originally Published